The Board must side with reason and economic development over inhumane austerity
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Today is a crucial day in the lives of 3.5 million U.S. citizens. The future of the people of Puerto Rico, a United States possession since 1898 will be decided, not on the Island, or even Washington, D.C. Its fate will be determine by a group of seven people, apparently more interested in profits than in helping the people.

There’s no denying that Puerto Rico is in a bind. We are well into the twelfth year of the most profound and prolong economic recession America has ever seen. The Island have lost 250,000 private sector jobs in just the last ten years. Our population, once nearly four million-strong, have been reduced by 500,000 in less than a decade. To make matters worse, the government carried a structural debt of almost $72,000.

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Poor decisions by the past administration helped push us to the brink. That’s why Congress passed the Puerto Rico Oversight, Management, and Economic Stability Act (PROMESA). The Act created the Fiscal Supervision Board, along with the Congressional Task Force on Economic Growth in Puerto Rico. Both organizations were developed to help the people, not to punish them.

Recently the Board made a series of recommendations such as the firing 45,000 public employees, a historic reduction of $100 million in the government-funded healthcare system and a 10 percent cut in pension benefits to our retirees. Those suggestions are too much and are not real either. If implemented, the Board’s plan will foreclose the public university system in Puerto Rico, as it takes out $450 million of its operational budget; not to mention that it will leave almost 500,000 U.S. citizens without healthcare coverage.

The Board has yet to present a credible economic development plan. In fact, the harsh austerity measures will force an historic migration to the states that we estimate will lead to a decline of nearly one million people in a ten year span. If only half of that number leaves, something that already has happened, Puerto Rico will become basically a refugee camp.

The Board has not acted on the Task Force’s recommendation of extending the federal work credit and to grant the Island full parity in Medicaid funds. They only have given us dramatic cuts. To counter them, the current administration presented a detailed fiscal plan which set forward real and concrete benchmarks, reducing the size of the government, without dismissing employees, while protecting our most vulnerable people, those under the poverty line. 

Our plan will also set forward a series of measures that will inject much needed cash to the government’s coffers and promote the creation of new jobs and investment in infrastructure, which Puerto Rico badly needs as most of our roads, bridges and even hospitals are decades old.

The choice could not be any clearer. We urge the Board to side with the people, to help us reinvigorate our economy and to strengthen our healthcare system. That said, as the Speaker of the Puerto Rico House of Representatives, I can assure the U.S. citizens in Puerto Rico that we will fight for you every step of the way. 

Carlos 'Johnny' Mendez, the Speaker of the Puerto Rico House of Representatives.


The views expressed by this author are their own and are not the views of The Hill.